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The first and the furious

This World Cup will see the coming of age of quite a few youngsters. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay looks at six exciting prospects.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2007 19:26 IST

Apart from being the last World Cup for many illustrious names, the ninth edition of the competition will also be the first for quite a few. Following are some of those who belong to the second category. Some of them will do well here and come back as heroes four years later, while some may not last that long on the cricket scene.

But, from what has been seen and heard of them, the performances of these first-timers might well have a big impact on how their teams fare this time. The selection of a player each from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh could raise eyebrows, but the idea is to see the talent that these countries have to offer. They are also under the cricket umbrella and the game will only benefit if they start doing well.

Shahriar Nafees

This Bangladesh opener is one of those players an entire nation’s dreams of becoming a cricketing power revolve around. More than the moderate success he has had against top teams, it is the way he achieved it that makes him an exciting prospect — someone who tries to give it back to the opponents instead of taking it lying down.

Bangladesh are not going to the Caribbean islands with high hopes, neither are there any great expectations among others about them. But for a team struggling to make a mark in international cricket, it is important that some of its players earn the respect of their rivals.

Nafees did just that with a Test century against Australia, and the stage is now set for him to tell the world that in a bunch of minnows, not all are exactly that.

An aggressive left-hander, Nafees likes going after the new ball, which makes him an ideal choice for one-day games. His elevation to the post of vice-captain in less than two years after debut shows that back home, people are banking on him to make their stay in international cricket more meaningful.

This World Cup may not turn out to be a competition Bangladesh will have many fond memories of. But since there is life beyond it and points to prove after that, it's important for their future hope to shine here, so that people at least start taking his team seriously.

Kevin Pietersen

Robust, adventurous and with a heart to challenge the formidable! England’s bid to build a team that can fight fire with fire couldn’t have received a better boost.

Very early in his international career, Pietersen faced a hostile crowd in South Africa — the country he hails from — but his firebrand strokeplay belted all the barracking into silence.

That he likes taking on the best became evident in the 2005 Ashes series. His counterattack was something the Aussies hadn’t expected and, when they realised they were not used this kind of resistance from England, the series was lost. All welcomed the arrival of a player who makes sport what it should be — a spectacle.

With an awesome average and strike rate in odis, Pietersen is not just his team’s mainstay but also a player who has the potential and the game to emerge as a star. That he lifts his game when the going gets tough makes him a rare kind.

Having been sidelined for a while by a Glenn McGrath ripper on the ribs, his
teammates will be hoping the blow has not weakened the heart beneath, for that is what sets Pietersen apart.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Purists may frown at his unique way of hitting big shots, but the Ranchi rocker is still trying to prove he is not all about sixes. There have been occasions when the team needed him to stay long and times when the opposition didn't allow him to free his arms, and Dhoni has shown he has the head to face either.

Being someone who feels players from smaller towns are mentally tougher than boys from the metros, the wicketkeeper displayed exactly that a few times under pressure in the Champions Trophy and in Kuala Lumpur, though none of these efforts won the matches for India. They were encouraging signs though, for they give Indian batting depth as well as some options.

With the pitches in the Caribbean not expected to see huge scores, Dhoni is a vital cog in the Indian wheel as he can graft when big shots are difficult to come by.

For such a powerful man who apparently has an endless appetite for milkshakes, he is surprisingly fast between the wickets and possesses enough stamina to keep doing it over a long period of time.

In a team packed with stroke-players in the top half, Dhoni can be the one initiating a late charge and also the one to launch a rearguard action, if needed. Apart from his role behind the stumps, he can play a big role in front of them in shaping India's fortune.

Elton Chigumbura

Zimbabwe may lose everything at the World Cup, but to retain the dignity of being a cricket-playing nation, it needs a few young players to deliver. This 21-year-old from Midlands is one of them, a vital homegrown hero for the game to survive in his country.

From the little that has been seen of him and compared to the quality of talent surfacing in his country, Chigumbura seems to have the spark and the steel to emerge as the player youngsters might want to emulate.

His batting lacks consistency but the strokes he plays convey his desire to be defiant. He is not willing to stay quiet and be ruled, trying to tell the world he has a voice of his own.

Being thrown into international cricket when the game in Zimbabwe was facing a turmoil that is still not over, Chigumbura had shown some early promise before being set back by an injury when India was there in 2005. His comeback has not been spectacular, but not insignificant either.

The world has seen promising Zimbabwean all-rounders like Andy Blignaut fade away for weird reasons, so for cricket to stay alive in the south African nation, players like Chigumbura must succeed.

This World Cup might well decide whether he can become the saviour of cricket in the country which stunned Australia in its maiden ODI appearance in 1983.

Ross Taylor

The batsman of Samoan origin goes to the World Cup an unknown commodity. Only the best in the business know him and the Aussies don’t have fond memories of their brief encounter with this youngster.

With New Zealand pinning their hopes on him to fill the void left by Nathan Astle, Taylor has responded with some smart knocks, including a century against Australia in February, when the Kiwis successfully chased down 336.

Being a team that tries to play a clinical blend of bits-and-pieces, no-nonsense cricket, the Kiwis have rarely scored many points for producing exciting, raw talent in recent times. Shane Bond started sensationally but he is not young anymore. Taylor’s arrival has given hope. Here is a rookie who can set alight matches with talent and an uninhibited spirit.

How the right-hander fares is also critical for the future of New Zealand cricket. The land of Martin Crowe has produced Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle, who have been respected for their abilities with the bat, but there are not too many prominent names following them.

Taylor’s journey would be closely followed in this context, because with him may lie the answer to whether the long wait for a successor is finally over.

Dwayne Bravo

In Brian Lara’s mission to leave cricket with his head held high for laurels earned by his team, this man is like a breath of fresh air. Capable of playing according to the situation, a more than handy customer with the ball with thoughtful variations in pace and a brilliant fielder — Bravo embodies all the virtues a team trying to recapture glory could look for.

For one who likes to call himself the ‘New Big Dog’ after the ‘Big Dog’, as Brian Lara is sometimes referred to in Trinidad, Bravo couldn’t have chosen a better role model. He knows that he will progress as a cricketer if he uses his head along with his natural abilities.

His clever bowling and sensible batting anchored the West Indies to a memorable series win at home over India last year. His presence acts as a dose of commonsense in a team where adrenaline overflow often brings disaster.

Apart from signs of becoming a complete cricketer, he is athletic too, evident in the way he fields. Bravo will be a key figure in his team’s plans.